Radio Utopia

Radio Utopia: Postwar Audio Documentary in the Public Interest

MATTHEW C. EHRLICH
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xck72
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  • Book Info
    Radio Utopia
    Book Description:

    As World War II drew to a close and radio news was popularized through overseas broadcasting, journalists and dramatists began to build upon the unprecedented success of war reporting on the radio by creating audio documentaries. Focusing particularly on the work of radio luminaries such as Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly, Norman Corwin, and Erik Barnouw, Radio Utopia: Postwar Audio Documentary in the Public Interest traces this crucial phase in American radio history, significant not only for its timing immediately before television, but also because it bridges the gap between the end of the World Wars and the beginning of the Cold War._x000B__x000B_Matthew C. Ehrlich closely examines the production of audio documentaries disseminated by major American commercial broadcast networks CBS, NBC, and ABC from 1945 to 1951. Audio documentary programs educated Americans about juvenile delinquency, slums, race relations, venereal disease, atomic energy, arms control, and other issues of public interest, but they typically stopped short of calling for radical change. Drawing on rare recordings and scripts, Ehrlich traces a crucial phase in the evolution of news documentary, as docudramas featuring actors were supplanted by reality-based programs that took advantage of new recording technology. Paralleling that shift from drama to realism was a shift in liberal thought from dreams of world peace to uneasy adjustments to a cold war mentality._x000B__x000B_Influenced by corporate competition and government regulations, radio programming reflected shifts in a range of political thought that included pacifism, liberalism, and McCarthyism. In showing how programming highlighted contradictions within journalism and documentary, Radio Utopia reveals radio's response to the political, economic, and cultural upheaval of the post-war era.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09300-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Utopian Dreams
    (pp. 1-12)

    It was the spring of 1945, so the story goes, and Edward R. Murrow was holding court among a group of his colleagues in war-ravaged Europe. During World War II, radio journalism had come into its own. Murrow had become internationally renowned during the German Blitz against London prior to America’s entry into the war. According to the poet Archibald MacLeish, Murrow’s CBS radio dispatches had demolished in Americans’ minds “‘the ignorant superstition that violence and lies and murder on another continent are not violence and lies and murder here.’”¹ Murrow had continued to inform his fellow citizens about Nazi...

  5. 1 A Higher Destiny
    (pp. 13-23)

    Utopian hopes for American radio are almost as old as the medium itself. In the words of one historian, radio was widely seen in the early 1920s as “a force new and powerful that seemed to have unlimited possibilities for social good” and as a “bright hope for a better world.” It would promote peace and democracy while raising the standards of education and mass culture. However, disillusionment soon followed over “the utter dullness, banality, and absence of controversy” offered by the commercial system that quickly came to dominate American broadcasting.¹ Hoping to reverse the trend, a coalition of labor,...

  6. 2 One World
    (pp. 24-45)

    Norman Corwin was born in 1910 in Boston.¹ As a young man, he worked as a newspaper journalist and movie-studio publicist, but he always viewed radio with wonder—it was “‘a theater without walls whose roof was the sky itself, a theater not for the optical but the mind’s eye, a locus in which thought, language, imagery, and metaphor enjoy an authority seldom honored in stage or film productions.’”² Corwin began writing for radio and joined CBS in 1938. His timing was propitious. “Because CBS was a young network at that time, and it was pitted against a network whose...

  7. 3 New and Sparkling Ideas
    (pp. 46-70)

    The creation of the CBS Documentary Unit in 1946 reflected contradictory impulses within CBS and its head, William Paley. A common historical assessment of Paley and the network in the immediate postwar years is that they largely abandoned the pretense of public service in favor of finally seizing the competitive edge over their archrival NBC.¹ Paley wrote in his memoirs that he rejected a proposal in 1945 by his second-in-command Paul Kesten to transform CBS from “a mass medium into an elite network” that would reject crass commercialism in favor of quality—in effect, the kind of programming represented by...

  8. 4 Home Is What You Make It
    (pp. 71-103)

    If CBS started its Documentary Unit in part to differentiate itself from NBC, the rival network was slow to respond in kind. Writing in theNew York Timesin August 1947, Jack Gould described CBS’s documentary efforts as “magnificent topical radio,” whereas NBC offered “outmoded and old-fashioned public-service programs” that relegated the network “to a back seat scarcely compatible with its acknowledged stature in radio.” However, according to Gould, that seemed poised to change with the promotion of NBC’s Ken Dyke to programming chief. Dyke had taken leave from the network to head the military’s Civilian Information and Education Section...

  9. 5 The Quick and the Dead
    (pp. 104-128)

    “Is the documentary dead?” Addressing that question inVarietyin July 1949, the CBS vice president Davidson Taylor declared that it would survive “so long as Americans refuse to believe that the state knows all the answers, and are convinced that the people must decide things for themselves.” But he acknowledged that audio documentary was facing new challenges at a time “when money is scarce and radio is undergoing a technological revolution.” Prominent documentarians such as Robert Heller had moved into entertainment programming. Heller suggested that audiences might learn more about the plight of underpaid teachers from a comedy series...

  10. 6 Hear It Now
    (pp. 129-154)

    Robert Lewis Shayon had reason to be optimistic that 1950 would be happier for him than the previous year had been. He was “shocked and perplexed” over his firing by CBS while feeling “a sense of public humiliation.”¹ At the start of the new year, however, he was offered a new position in Paris supervising the radio operations of the Economic Cooperative Administration (ECA) associated with the Marshall Plan. Shayon was delighted, only to see the job offer suddenly withdrawn. The newsletterCounterattackhad questioned the appointment, citing Shayon’s participation in “Communist front” organizations such as the Progressive Citizens of...

  11. 7 Lose No Hope
    (pp. 155-164)

    In assessing the postwar documentary’s legacy, it should be asked whether Murrow was naive when he asserted in 1951 that the ear is capable of great understanding. It was, after all, a time when demagoguery was on the rise and liberal attempts at reform were in retreat simultaneous with “the final demise of a national radio service which had dominated the American scene for a quarter of a century,” as one historian has put it.¹ Even during the more hopeful preceding years, when Robert Heller was speaking of the radio documentary as representing “a profound revolution” and a “virtual Utopia,”...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 165-210)
  13. Index
    (pp. 211-222)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-228)